“Vinyl” is as personal a work as any I’ve ever seen. Like its studio-produced comedic predecessor “High Fidelity”, the subject is records, music, love, and life (or lack thereof). Yet writer/director Alan Zweig infuses his cheap video celebration of obsession with a spectrum of meaning and insight that goes beyond the surface attributes of record collectors; he dissects himself and his interviewees with a deprecating and moribund wit, creating connections between their collective misarranged lives.
Zweig devotes much of the film time to interviewing Toronto record collectors—scroungers, really–in their homes; their stories range from the small fry to the grandiose; in particular, one man owns over a million records, and his goal is to collect every single record ever made. Zweig’s questions are not often pointed—he allows his fellow collectors to speak freely and candidly about their collecting habits. Their honesty is surprising; for obsessive-compulsive collectors, nearly all recognize, or at least acknowledge, that perhaps their habit was a substitute for something missing in their lives.
For Zweig, who places himself in front of the mirror and does a good bit of self-reflection, it is a matter of the way his life has turned out. He laments the time that has passed and with it, the opportunity to accomplish the things he once thought he wanted to accomplish. He finds himself delving more and more into Easy Listening records, while his head tells him he’d rather listen to Jazz, and he wonders what it means.
There is a good bit of humor in Zweig’s work. His personal and solitary reflection of Christmas over a tumbler of whiskey, his distressing encounters with the mice of inevitability, and his self-deprecation at feelings of losing the battle between ‘collecting for the music’ and ‘collecting for the having’ are at once pathetic and gloriously insightful. He questions himself, yet makes no apologies for his state of being. He is honest, yet funny; sad, yet anxiously searching for joy outside of possessions and material wants. His poignant desire for a family, for love and romance and sex and children, come through with the clarity of a deeply nuanced and well-meaning man.
Through “Vinyl”, Zweig interprets obsessions as substitutions for lacks we have in life. His warm consideration of record collecting as both a function of endearing love for nostalgia and a socially dysfunctional habit is both entertaining and thoughtful, and a worthwhile watch for any collector.